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Court of Appeals overturns Crouch convictions

The Virginia Court of Appeals has overturned a King George Circuit Court jury’s five felony convictions of Robert Crouch for obtaining money by false pretenses and dismissed the charges against him. “Words cannot describe my profound disappointment in this decision,” said King George Commonwealth’s Attorney Keri Gusmann.

Crouch, 48, was convicted in March of last year of defrauding customers of the former Meadow Brooke Memorial Gardens Cemetery in King George. In addition to the five counts overturned by the Court of Appeals, he was also convicted on nine counts of failure to deposit in the proper trust account.

After the convictions, Circuit Court Judge Martin Bass sentenced Crouch to five years in prison, ordered him to pay $35,000 in fines and make restitution of almost $85,000 to his victims. The Court of Appeals order does not affect the nine convictions for failing to deposit in a perpetual trust account, but reduces the fines to $22,500.

The remaining $12,500 in fines, the 60-month prison sentence and the order to pay restitution have been vacated by the Court of Appeals. And, Crouch, who has been held in the Nottoway Correctional Facility, will be released from prison, although he still faces possible charges in Spotsylvania County in connection with similar felony charges there in 2010.

In obtaining the Crouch convictions, Commonwealth’s Attorney Gusmann told the jury that Crouch “stole from people who were at their most vulnerable point”, and she presented over 40 pieces of evidence and 35 witnesses to persuade the jury to vote for the 14 guilty verdicts.

One of the trial witnesses was cemetery victim Doris Gohring, who tearfully testified about the impact that Crouch’s fraud had on her and her family. “In 12 years of prosecuting cases professionally, the hardest call I ever had to make was to Doris Goring,” Gusmann said, after the Court of Appeals decision was handed down.

In his appeal of the five convictions for obtaining money by false pretenses, Crouch, through his attorney, claimed at the trial that the Commonwealth had failed to prove he was guilty of the charges since the funds involved were in a pre-need trust account that was owned by Stonecrest Financial, which was managed and owned by Crouch.  

The Court of Appeals held that “the money paid into Stonecrest’s account is money that belonged to the corporation. The money was not held in a pre-need trust on behalf of the purchaser, and there was no person or entity other than Stonecrest that had an equitable interest in it.”

“Simply put,” the Court of Appeals ruled, “Stonecrest did not obtain money by a false pretense because it already had ownership of the money.” The opinion notes the fact that Crouch personally removed cash during the transactions. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals gave no explanation as to why that didn’t violate the law.

The Crouch case is no longer being handled by the King George County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Once the appeal was granted, it was taken over by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.

“I have urged the Assistant Attorney General that handled the matter to note an appeal on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth,” said Gusmann. “If this opinion stands, I urge all concerned citizens to contact our local legislators to pass a new law that covers this despicable act.”

Richard Leggitt

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